There are a fair number of tall, skinny trees on the island, but the tree I'm here to tell you about today is a tall, skinny, diseased, dead maple with a distinct tilt southwest. It looks like an accident waiting to happen. When I say tall, I estimated this one at around 70 feet. It's one of the taller trees on the island, and because it's so high up there, it looks much skinnier than it is.
I decided last fall that one of my first spring projects would be to bring it down and cut it up. It wasn't until I headed down there with my larger chainsaw that I realized how much thicker it was than the capacity of my chain saw. However, since the lower trunk is bifurcated, I figured I could tackle each fork of the trunk individually. I had a new chain on the chainsaw, and I'd charged up two batteries. The eastern fork of the trunk was really no problem. Clearly all the strength of the tree was on the west side. I'm a patient person, so I worked on it carefully until the bar and chain of the saw got pinched by the weight of the tree leaning down on it. This happens frequently in my experience, so I didn't waste time trying to pull it free. After all, this tree was maple, not balsa wood. I opened up the side door of the chainsaw, disconnected the bar and chain from the sprockets, and left them in the tree.
In the worst case scenario, I figured I could buy a new bar and chain. It was starting to rain, so I came home with only the body of the chainsaw, charged up the batteries and decided to wait overnight, because it occasionally happens that a partially cut tree that is leaning will be overcome by gravity and come down on its own. This morning it was still standing, but the cut through the east fork of the trunk was considerably wider. That seemed encouraging.
The previous day I'd been emailing with my friend Neil, whose farm is 20 times the size of mine and who knows all too well that I was working far above my pay grade. He strongly recommended I get a professional to finish the job. As I was thinking of heading back up to the house and calling up a tree company, I heard a distinct sound that I recognize: it's not really a cracking sound but it's half way between a woodpecker and a gunshot if one were wearing ear protection. It's a sound that says, "Lady, you need to be over 70 feet away from the scene of this crime in a hurry, and you'd better get there the long way around."
Did I mention I was wearing my new dressing gown? I often wear it over my clothes when I'm at home. So I walked the long way around the edge of the island, crossed the bridge, and I was standing on the bank of the river, at least 100 feet from the tree, gazing up at it. I really did not want to miss seeing its descent. I stood there for about 15 minutes, and noticed every time there was a gust of wind, I heard the woodpecker/gunshot sound again. As the wind picked up, the sound came more frequently, and all of a sudden, the tree started to fall straight in my direction. It landed exactly as I'd hoped it would land - and there on top of the stump I could see my bar and chain, just lying there doing nothing.
Postscript: I went home to retrieve my phone and a tape measure. The tree turned out to be only 60 feet high, as the crow flies, but the trunk wasn't completely straight. If it had been, I'd have exceeded my maximum tree height by an impressive amount.
The thing is, the whole endeavour felt a little too risky. A tree can suddenly torque when it's being sawn through, and come down in an unpredictable way. I'm comfortable with a fair amount of risk, but I don't like unmanageable risk. So I think I may take Neil's good advice and confine my lumberjacking to things like cutting up tree stumps.
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